The damage can't be undone
The damage can't be undoneSHARE
It is not a Final; in fact it is the other end of the scale. However, the Southern Kings versus Lions promotion-relegation series is of equally epic importance.
In fact in some respects it is of even greater consequence, as the very existence and survival of both franchises depend on the outcome of this two-match series – starting in Port Elizabeth on Friday (July 26) and then concluding in Johannesburg a week later (Saturday, August 3).
Both Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons and Lions coach Johan Ackermann agree the stakes are high.
They feel the damage done by defeat is likely to linger for years.
For the loser there is nothing left but another season (or perhaps even more) in the wilderness and a bitter fight for survival at the lower end of the scale.
The winner can reap the rewards that go with Super Rugby status – the interest of sponsors, bigger gate takings, quality rugby and most important of all being an attractive option for top quality players.
"What is really at stake as far as these two games are concerned is the welfare of these two franchises," was the blunt assessment of the Kings boss, Solomons.
Solomons feels that the loser will, until at least 2016 when a new tournament format comes up for consideration by SANZAR, be out of Super Rugby.
"The consequences for either franchises are massive," the Kings boss said, adding: "Fundamentally, you will be in the wilderness."
Ackermann echoed similar sentiments.
"We all know how important it is and the [Lions] players are hungry to get another taste of Super Rugby," he said, adding: "We can't hide from the fact that there's a lot at stake and for both teams there are two important weeks ahead."
Both coaches pointed out the perils of defeat in what will be an epic battle of survival. "The franchise that comes off second best is going to have a very, very difficult time," Solomons said.
"Not only will it be difficult to retain players, it will be very difficult for them to operate as a franchise or union," he said in reference to the Kings' struggles before their entry into the competition this year.
Ackermann, who has struggled this year to not only retain a reasonable core group of players – with a host of senior players either going out on loan to Super Rugby franchises and a significant number actually signing with franchises guaranteed Super Rugby status – now knows what the Kings went through.
Add to that the lack of quality game time and the consequence is obvious.
"It [defeat] will be a huge blow for either union," the Lions coach said, adding: "In their case, having been in just for one year, then fall out and stop the entire process it will be an enormous setback.
"In our case, it will mean we have to start rebuilding again, we will lose players to other unions again and we have to start at the bottom again.
"For us it is important to retain this group [of players] we have and in order to do that we have to get back into Super Rugby.
"If we get into Super Rugby we will have the ability to lure other players to the Lions as well.
"The fact is both teams have exactly the same pressure and [face] the same imperilment."
Solomons admitted there will be an enormous amount of emotion attached to the build-up of these games.
"You have got to accept that there is going to be a lot of emotion floating around," the Kings boss said, adding: "There is no doubt about it, for both teams.
"One has got to deal with that emotion and have mechanisms in place to ensure the emotions are channeled in the correct direction and adds to, as opposed to detracting from, the team performance."
By Jan de Koning